Road travel how to guide

Tips for travel by road

How to travel by road and keep you and your passengers safe during the journey? Here is a road travel how to guide that will help answer that question.

If you are planning to drive to your holiday destination or going on a touring holiday involving daily driving, either way could mean some long distance driving. It’s worth considering things you should do or think about before and during your trip. The guide includes information on preparing your car and pre journey checks, planning your trip in advance, what to do during the journey, what to carry in your car in winter and what is worth carrying in your car at any time of year.

Travelling by car is considered more dangerous than air travel. Statistically the chances of you dying in a car crash are about 1 in 5000, while the odds of dying in a plane crash are approximately 1 in 11 million. So much greater chance of having a fatal traffic accident than flying. Long distance driving increases the risk so it is worth doing all you can to minimise the risk.

Please feel free to add your own Tips for Travel by Road.

 

Travel by Car

Firstly, make sure your car is in good working order and has been properly serviced recently, preferably by a reputable car mechanic. Tell them where you are planning to drive to and ask them to check the relevant parts and levels are good for that length of journey.

 

Pre-journey checks

At a minimum you should check the following on your car before setting off to ensure your journey is event free:

Travel by Road - Pre journey checks

Tyres + spare wheel – are they in good condition? No cuts or other damage and are they inflated to the correct pressures for the load you’ll be carrying? If you are driving in winter and the weather conditions could mean snow or ice where you are going it will be worth investing in all weather or winter tyres. Summer tyres are useless in snow conditions and the right tyres could save you from an accident that has the potential to wreck your holiday or worse. If you are driving on summer tyres in winter, at a minimum carry snow socks for your tyres in case you get stuck. If you have no spare wheel make sure you have a working emergency repair kit with you and the “use by” date has not expired.

Tool kit containing jack, torch and handbook – check your tool kit has wheel nut spanner, locking wheel nut adapter if locking nuts are fitted on your car and a car jack so you can change a wheel if necessary. A torch with fresh batteries, if you break down after dark this is a must have. Having the car handbook with you, if you have one, can help provide answers to problems as they occur.

Engine oil levels and spare engine oil – check engine oil is topped up before you set off and carry one litre of spare engine oil with you in case the worst happens and you get a red oil warning light appear.

Water coolant levels – check engine coolant levels are topped up to the maximum. If travelling in winter ensure there is enough antifreeze in the system. It’s a good idea to carry spare water for emergency top ups especially if you are travelling in hot countries.

Windscreen and wipers – Fill the windscreen washer tank the day before and keep filling up well before empty on route. Add more concentrated screen wash additive for winter driving conditions. Check the wipers are in good conditions, do not squeak or have splits or cuts in them. Check the windscreen has no stone chips or cracks and if so get them fixed. It only takes one big bump in the road and a minor stone chip could radiate out to big cracks or craze the whole windscreen leaving the car undrivable until a replacement windscreen is fitted.

 

Plan your trip in advance

Planning your trip in advance will help to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible. Consider doing the following before setting off:

Travel by Road - Plan your trip in advance

Check the expected weather on your route before setting out. In bad weather such as fog, snow and ice or heavy rain, this will cause most drivers to slow down and on busy roads you can end up crawling along. If you can, plan your journey to avoid the worst of the expected weather.

Check the traffic on your route before setting out. This can save you a lot of time by avoiding routes with major road works or road traffic accidents causing big tail backs in traffic. Some Sat Navs have built in traffic alerts and re-route you automatically to avoid the incident.

Carry maps as well as a Sat Nav. If you are going on an unfamiliar route it is a good idea to have a backup of navigating the old way using printed maps in case something happens to your Sat Nav.

Download a free Sat Nav app such as “Navfree” on to your smartphone. This acts as a useful backup, uses GPS with offline maps and integrated Google Streetview. When used abroad it can be used in offline mode requiring no data connection, avoiding high roaming charges. It also comes in very handy when you are walking around unfamiliar towns and cities.

Carry your driving license and a copy of your insurance certificate. Make sure your insurance covers you when driving your car in another country and extend the cover if necessary. Check that your license is valid in the country you will be driving in.

Consider joining one of the roadside assistance breakdown services for peace of mind when you are on the road.

The following UK companies offer varying levels of breakdown roadside assistance covering the UK. Coverage can also be extended to include mainland Europe at extra cost: The AA, The RAC, Greenflag, QDOS, StartRescue, AutoNational

The following US companies offer varying levels of breakdown roadside assistance with national coverage of the US and Canada: All State Motor Club, AAA, Good Sam Roadside Assistance, Better World Club

If you are driving a rental car make sure you are familiar with the controls and the position of the various switches before you start driving. Also ensure you know how to open the fuel filler cap, boot (trunk) and the engine compartment. If you can’t figure out how to open any of those, ask the car rental company before you set off. It is also a good idea to check where the spare wheel is located and is it inflated properly.

If you are planning to drive in a foreign country find out local laws before you start your trip. For example, in France by law you must carry in your car – a warning triangle, a reflective jacket, a disposable breathalyser, spare bulbs (recommended), snow chains must be used on snow covered roads. It is also illegal to use a GPS device that warns about speed control cameras. These are just a few of the requirements you need to meet to comply with French driving laws. Every country has its own set of rules and regulations, so please check before hand.

The AA has some great general advice on driving abroad. This document from The AA covers compulsory equipment requirements for taking your vehicle from UK to various EU countries. You can check compulsory equipment requirements for driving your vehicle in other European countries here.

There are no compulsory equipment requirements in the US, other than it is recommended you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) and most states require you wear seat belts in the front seats.

A long road trip is likely to be tiring so get as much sleep as you can before setting off so you have some reserves in your personal fuel tank.

Plan to set off early and allow plenty of time to get to your first destination in case of unforeseen emergencies, weather or traffic.

Leave your itinerary with a another family member or friend at home and a contact number. Let them know the route you are taking, where you plan to stay and when and a contact number they can reach you on, just in case of emergencies.

It is worth considering wearing anti-embolism stockings if you are likely to be driving or riding in a car for long hours in a day . This is particularly true if you are on a touring holiday involving driving long hours on consecutive days. The stockings help to prevent Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT), the formation of a blood clot in a deep larger vein within the body, predominantly within the legs. See our section on Wear anti embolism stockings to prevent DVT on the Air travel how to guide for more information.

 

Update – UK Counterpart driving license being abolished from 8 June 2015

The DVLA in the UK are abolishing the paper counterpart driving license from 8 June 2015. This means that if you are planning to hire a car while abroad the car hire company will not be able to use the paper counterpart as an accurate and up-to-date record of your driving history for things like previous motoring offences. However, the DVLA have a section of their website which enables motorists to get a one time only code, which is valid for 72 hours, you can give this code to the car hire company so they can check your current license history on-line. You also have the option to print off a history in PDF format. To ensure you don’t run into problems when picking up your hire car and for more details go to the Driving License Changes page on the DVLA website.

 

During the journey

Here are a few “must haves” and things you should always do during the journey:

Travel by Road - During the journey

  • Always wear your seat belt and don’t use mobile/cell phones while driving.
  • Carry a water bottle in the car in case of emergency as well as some snacks. 
  • Carry a first aid kit and make sure the items within it are not past their expiry date.
  • Carry a mobile/cell phone in case of emergencies but be sure to pull over if you need to use it. Don’t forget to bring a car phone charger so you can charge your phone no matter where you are.
  • Carry sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight is less tiring on your eyes and can help prevent an accident if you are partially blinded by the Sun low in the sky.
  • Take regular breaks. This is a must do on long journeys. At the very least stop, get out of the car and walk around. It helps to get the blood flowing again, reduces the chance of DVT and generally rejuvenates you for the next leg of the drive.
  • If possible share the driving with a fellow passenger. This makes such a big difference to the distance you can cover in a day and the way you feel at the end of the day. It is much less tiring when you can each do in turn an hour driving and an hour resting. You can just switch off and snooze or just close your eyes during your resting time which helps to keep you fresh for your driving time.
  • When you stop and leave the car make sure you lock it and ensure all valuables are out of sight in the boot or the glove box or under seats. Opportunist thieves could wreck your holiday in a few minutes breaking into your car to steal something valuable that could have been hidden out of sight.
  • If you suffer from motion sickness during car journeys, see the post on Tips to give you motion sickness relief for some solutions to relieve the symptoms

Here is a video clip which give 10 top tips you can use on long road trips. In the video the presenter talks about the tips in the context of long distance road trips in the US but these can apply anywhere.

 

What to carry in winter

The following is not an exhaustive list but if you are going on a long trip in winter, particularly if where you are going there is likely to be lots of snow and ice, consider carrying all the following in your vehicle:

Travel by Road - What to carry in winter

  • Warm clothes, blanket, rug or sleeping bag for all passengers
  • Boots with snow/ice grips- essential if you need to venture out of the car into the snow
  • High visibility jacket/vest
  • Shovel – for digging yourself out of trouble
  • Torch with spare batteries
  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Extra screen wash pre-diluted for winter conditions
  • Bottled water
  • Food and a warm drink in a Thermos flask
  • First aid kit
  • Sunglasses to help combat snow glare
  • Portable vehicle escape tracks for traction on snow/mud
  • Bag of salt/sand to help clear snow and ice
  • Reflective warning sign
  • Battery jump start cables
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Tow rope
  • Tyre snow socks
  • Tyre snow chains

 

What to carry in general

There are a few things worth carrying in your car no matter what time of year it is if you are going on a long car journey:

Travel by Road - What to carry in general

  • Bottled water, you and/or your car might need this if the weather is hot
  • Snacks
  • Sun cream, in case you breakdown and the weather is hot
  • Mobile phone
  • Mobile phone charger
  • The phone number of your Roadside assistance provider (if you are a member)
  • The car handbook if available
  • High visibility jacket/vest
  • First Aid kit – check the expiry date of contents
  • Warning triangle
  • Fire extinguisher – check the expiry date
  • A spare empty fuel can
  • One litre of spare engine oil – check its the right type for your engine
  • Paper maps or road atlas

 

If you found the above road travel how to guide helpful, please share so others can benefit from the information as well or if you have any questions or tips of your own for travel by road, leave a comment below.

26 Comments

  1. Hi. I’m going to print this article and share it with my family. My stepdaughter drives between VA and PA and in her free-time takes road trips that are often longer than 12 hours. We could all use a refresher in road trip preparedness. This past winter we got a snowstorm and I was reminded how important it is to be prepared in bad weather for getting stuck…warm clothes, hats, mittens, extra dry socks and clothes, water, cell phone charger, and so-on. I think some people in PA died while stuck on the road during this last snowstorm. Its never a bad thing to be over-prepared. Great article. Thank you!

    • Hi Alyssa,

      You are right, in winter it is particularly important to be prepared for all eventualities when driving. I know a British guy who was working in Chicago. He drove his daily commute from his garage to the office underground car park. Being nice and snug in the warm car he didn’t have a warm coat with him when one day the car broke down on the highway. No engine, no heat. An hour and half wait for roadside assistance guys to arrive, by which time he was shivering. It all ended OK but could have been a disaster if the wait had been much longer. The moral of the story, always carry a spare jacket or blankets in the car in winter, even for short journeys such as commuting.

      Thanks

      Neil

  2. Hi Neil,

    I’ve forwarded this to my wife and printed it off. I’m no angel when it comes to the road and preparing for trips, etc., but if I could just get her to put petrol and oil in the car that would be a big step forward. My intentions are good, if I print this off and leave it close to her desk then she might read it and then it didn’t come from me!! Job done!

    Keep up the good work; great information.

  3. Hi Neil,

    This is very informative and well written. I love long driving. I would drive hrs and hrs than to take the plane. I enjoy the view and the music playing in my car. I never really thought of readying my self like making sure that I have the proper tools with me just in case of unseen circumstances like a flat tire. This really got me thinking again. thanks for your post!

    • Hi Von,

      Yes it really is worth preparing beforehand because you never now what can happen on a road trip even in a car that is new or fairly new. Not sure where you are based but for road trips in winter it is particularly important to carry the right gear in case of a breakdown, especially if the temperature is below zero outside. It can save your life!!

      Thanks

      Neil

  4. Neil,
    What a great thorough checklist for car travel. I never thought of adding a downloaded GPS app for my smartphone as a backup to my auto GPS. What a great idea that was. Many of these items are obvious, but you have mentioned some that I did not even think of. Road trips can be much more enjoyable when you have unexpected events planned for. Thanks for these tips.

    Bob

    • Hi Bob,

      Glad you found the tips useful. I have used GPS maps on my smartphone before now when the portable GPS I use in the car ran out of juice and I didn’t have a charger with me.

      Thanks for your comment

  5. Hey there

    You have laid out a great article relating to travelling by road. It is totally opposite to people like me who prefers feeling mother earth on my foot when it comes to travelling.

    I don’t wanna be depending on transport as travelling should be carefree & walking is the best way to feel / get the most out of your travels.

    Thanks for the review!
    Zhi Wei

    • Hi Lee,

      Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about travelling on foot as it gives you time to see a lot more. That is one disadvantage of driving as opposed to riding in the car in that you need to keep your eyes on the road and you miss much of tyhe scenery along the way.

      Thanks

      Neil

  6. Neil,

    I really do not think I could have come across a more helpful page on how to prepare for road travel that’s as helpful as yours. You’ve really taken a lot of time to line-out all of these details.

    If I take any long trips anytime soon, it would definitely be a good idea to check out this page again first.

    Thanks,

    Bryan-

    • Hi Bryan,

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the information useful. If you do go on a road trip I’d advise using a list of things to prepare on the car beforehand and a list of things to take on the journey. Anything similar to what I have on the page would do.

      Thanks

      Neil

  7. Dear Neil,
    Well, it became clear from the outset that you’re British, since you spell those rubber things that hit the road as
    ‘tyres’, rather than the US spelling ‘tires’.

    So as long as you are mainly appealing to Brits, that’s fine. USAns may find the spelling you use a bit odd, but hey that’s their problem–unless you are really targeting a US market, in which case the US spelling may be more appropriate.

    One other item I noticed was the phrase, “Cover can also be extended to included mainland”. In the US, it would be expressed as, “Coverage can also be extended to include mainland…” The infinite would use present, not past tense”. But having taken a course in English teaching from a Cambridge oriented TEFL course, I find that British and American usage may differ. So forgive any notations I make in that regard.

    Farther down, how about, “Carry a water bottle in the car in case of emergency as well as some snacks”?

    The whole post is well laid out, and the content is clear. It’s cool that you have video included, and the pictures are good, too.

    All in all, a great job!

    Eric

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for pointing out a couple of grammatical errors on my part, which I have now corrected as per your suggestions. I am usually quite diligent, checking what I’ve actually written before publishing but those couple slipped through the net. Also as you rightly pointed out I am from the UK so ‘tyres’ will remain as ‘tyres’ and not ‘tires’ as you guys in the US refer to them. Semantics of language can get a little confusing sometimes particularly when it comes to the UK and US names for parts of a car. Hood and bonnet, trunk and boot etc.

      Thanks

      Neil

  8. I actually noticed about “wearing sunglasses during daytime” and totally agreed with that. However based on my experience, wearing sunglasses at night when you are driving and your eyes are tired is very useful too. It actually kept me alert and released the strain on my eyes. Maybe u guys want to try out next time.

    • Hi Florence,

      I wouldn’t recommend wearing dark sunglasses for driving at night. It depends on how dark the lenses are but dark lenses can obscur your vision. You can get night vision glasses, specifically designed for cutting down the glare of oncoming headlights, with tinted lenses that don’t obscur your vision. Searching Amazon.com for “Night vision glasses” bring back this – http://amzn.to/1TU6oDR

      Thanks

      Neil

  9. Wow. This is really helpful and I must admit, I don’t do about 4/5 of the things you mention. I’m going to print this out and leave it in my car at all times. There is so much information. I really like that you touched on embolism-prevention socks, as I am familiar with these, and will be bringing a pair for both my mom and me when we travel to France soon. She’s 81 years old and prone to blood clots.
    THanks!

    • Hi Diana,

      Not sure if you have purchased anti-embolism socks before but be sure to get the correct size as the wrong size can be worse than not wearing them at all. I found this simple guide on the web which you can use. Glad found the information in the road travel guide useful.

      Thanks

      Neil

  10. What an excellent travelling guide. I really like the pre journey checks and some of the points discussed in it. These are things so many of us take for granted when going on a trip and I bet so many will love to travel or go for a trip and this post is the perfect place to start. This is a 5 start post. Thanks

    • Hi Cedric,

      Glad you liked the information and found it useful. I always find checklists invaluable for things like road trips so I don’t forget something.

      Thanks

      Neil

  11. Hi Neil.

    1. A couple of points about travelling in France. Since a couple of years ago it is mandatory to carry a disposable breathalyser in your car. These are available in garages for about 2-3 Euro. Thre is a fine if you are stopped and you don’t have one.
    2. It is now illegal to use a GPS or other device that warns about speed control cameras (such as a coyote). There is a fine and they may confiscate your equipment. How this is implemened, I have no idea.

    All the best

    Lorcan

    • Hi Lorcan,
      Thanks for these great points and advice. The point about breathalysers in France was already mentioned in the section above regarding if you are planning to drive in a foreign country, but I have added in the point about GPS devices that warn of speed cameras. I have also added into the same section some links to pages on the AA website (UK roadside assistance service) which have good advice about driving abroad and compulsory equipment that must be carried for various European countries.
      Thanks
      Neil

  12. Hi Neil

    A couple of points about snow chains:
    1. Make sure you practice putting them on before you leave on holiday. When it’s five below zero and dark and your hands are numb, it’s a bad time to read the instructions.
    2. If you’re driving to a snow holiday, you KNOW you’ll need those chains. So they should be the last thing you pack, so that they are easily accessible.

    Cheers.

    Lorcan

    • Hi Lorcan,
      Thanks for comment and I absolutely agree with you points about snow chains. They can be fiddly things to fit to wheels so well worth practicing in warmer weather in the daylight before being forced to fit them in the dark when it’s freezing outside.
      Thanks
      Neil

  13. Hi Neil, thank you for sharing this info, you thought of everything. The statistics of dying in a car crash at 1 in 5000 seems high. Does this not differ per country? Cheers, Jerry

    • Hi Jerry,
      The statistics for the odds of dying in a plane crash versus a car crash are generally available on the internet but come from a study done by David Ropeik at Harvard University in 2006 and are referenced in this artcicle. The article refers to plane crashes in a number of countries so I would have thought that the numbers apply to global odds. A few more interesting facts and odds around transportation are in this article. Regarding lifetime odds in 2008 the National Safety Council in the US compiled data on the odds of dying. It calculated the odds of dying in a road traffic accident to be 1 in 98 for a lifetime, while for air and space transport, the odds were 1 in 7,178 for a lifetime. This and other statistics are available here.
      Thanks
      Neil

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